St. Pete's sake; RU wins 4th straight bowl

Rutgers scored viia the big plays on offense, defense and special teams and rolled to a 45-24 win against Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Saturday at Tropicana Field. Scarlet Knights quarterback Tom Savage threw for a career-high 294 yards, Mohamed Sanu scored three touchdowns and the Scarlet Knights won their fourth consecutive bowl to finish 9-4.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The promise of the future was displayed, the frustration of an inconsistent offense was taken out and the fury of a rabid defense was again exhibited.

It was a heckuva way to send out the senior class, and to build momentum for the offseason, not to mention give the frozen and snowed-in fan base a reason to feel warm and tingly.

Behind a career-high 294 passing yards and two touchdowns by freshman quarterback Tom Savage and three touchdowns from freshman receiver Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers rolled to its fourth straight bowl win, a 45-24 dismantling of Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field.

"I'm very proud of our team,'' Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "We didn't finish up the way we wanted to against West Virginia. I told the guys we were coming down here as a reward and the entire team really wanted to send the seniors out with a win.

"I'm very proud of the seniors, although I'm sad to see them leave. …I'm really proud of the way our kids played on both sides of the ball.''

The trophy case at the Hale Center will now hold the championship hardware from the St. Petersburg Bowl, joining the ones from the Texas, International and bowls.

"We've been to five straight bowls, with four straight wins in bowl games,'' Schiano said. "You have to be consistent before you can be great. We'll be great some day.''

Sanu was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after catching four passes for 97 yards, including an 11-yard score to give Rutgers a 35-17 early in the third quarter. While operating in the "Wildcat'' formation, Sanu also scored on runs of five yards and one yard and finished with 41 yards on the ground.

"I'm getting more comfortable in the offense and I'm able to see things happen,'' Sanu said. "So I'm just letting my abilities take over.''

Senior Tim Brown showed his big-play ability again, taking a medium-range pass from Savage and racing the rest of the way for a 65-yards score to put Rutgers ahead for good, 14-7, with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter. After being shut out in the regular season finale against West Virginia, Brown caught four passes for 99 yards.

The Scarlet Knights (9-4) finished with their most wins since the magical 2006 season, and reached the nine-win plateau for the sixth time in 140 years.

"We really played well and I'm happy we send the seniors out with a ‘W,' ‘' said Savage, who completed 14 of 27 and also threw an interception. "It felt like everything was really clicking.''

While the offense was explosive, especially in the first half, the defense was spectacular despite losing senior cornerback Devin McCourty in the first quarter with an eye injury.

His replacement, senior walk-on Billy Anderson, overcame a shaky beginning to play a strong final three quarters, which included a game-changing 19-yard interception return for a touchdown to put Rutgers ahead 28-17 with 1:38 remaining in the first half.

"After that (start) he played shut-down,'' Schiano said. "I thought he was excellent.'' The Scarlet Knights' defense harried Central Florida (8-5) quarterback Brett Hodges into completing 13 of 28 for 175 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions before being knocked out in the fourth quarter.

Rutgers recorded six sacks, and hit Hodges relentlessly via blitzes from a variety of locations, as well as pressure from the defensive line.

Central Florida's rushing attack was non-existent against a quicker, and stronger, Rutgers defensive front. Brynn Harvey entered with more than 1,000 rushing yards, but carried 13 times for 32 yards.

The Knights finished with 35 yards on 30 rushes, but backup Rob Calabrese had 26 of those coming in after Hodges was injured.

"We're an aggressive style defense,'' Scarlet Knights senior linebacker Damaso Munoz said. "We get after it. It wasn't a secret that we got after it today, and I hope (Hodges) is all right, but that's what we do. We pressure the quarterback.''

The tone was set early, after Quincy McDuffie opened the game with a 65-yard kick return to Rutgers' 31 yard-line. That is when Munoz jumped a route and intercepted Hodges' third-down pass to thwart the drive.

Munoz also capped the win in high-flying style, taking a carom off Joe Lefeged on an on-side kick and returning it 35-yards for a touchdown with 2:18 to play. Munoz put an exclamation on his stellar game by doing a flip into the end zone, which drew a 15-yard penalty.

"You can't go out any better way than this, really,'' Rutgers senior right tackle Kevin Haslam said. "A nice win, a nice flip into the end zone for the senior class. Ya' know, we're not allowed to do anything like that, but it's fun to watch.''

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